France: Corsica

Southern Corsica

Wine regions of Ajaccio, Sartène, Figari and Porto-Vecchio
By Tom Fiorina

This Guide was last updated on 18 July 2013
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Main grape varieties

A Corsican vineyard may have any of 30 indigenous varieties like Aleatico, Barbarossa, Elégante, Biancu Gentile, Genovese, Riminese, and might also grow imported varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, Chardonnay, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan, Ugni Blanc or Muscat à Petits Grains, but there are three noble, insular varieties - the Sciaccarellu, the Niellucciu and the Vermentinu - that are the basis of all Corsican appellation wines. We focus on these below.


Native to Corsica, Sciaccarellu does exceptionally well in the granitic soil found around Ajaccio and Sartène. The name is from a Corsican adjective meaning, literally, ’crispy-crunchy between the teeth’ and, indeed, this grape does have a tough skin. Sciaccarellu wines are close in appearance and aroma to Pinot Noir (it’s considered to be a sommelier’s trap). The colour tends to be pale and unstable, and it’s difficult to find a 100% Sciaccarellu wine. They have a meaty palate and peppery taste, a wide spectrum of aromas (almonds, red fruits, leather, and the scent of the Corsican scrubland maquis that covers much of the island), as well as powdery tannins through to the finish. The grape is difficult to grow, as it is susceptible to mildew. In addition to reds, it is used to make a rosé wine that is pale, onion-skin pink in colour and with strong, herbal-scented aromas of the maquis.

More commonly grown in the limestone soil of northern Corsica - primarily in the Patrimonio appellation, Niellucciu is believed to be a sibling of Tuscany’s Sangiovese grape, but any similarity is in the DNA, rather than in character. Nieullucciu is to the northern part of the island what Sciaccarellu is to the south: a well-adapted vine that is capable of producing wines of great finesse and structure. In the south, it’s mostly blended with Sciaccarellu to add colour and additional complexity. Because it buds early and ripens late, Niellucciu is susceptible to late spring frosts and harvest rot.

After the Sciaccarellu, the pink-skinned Barbarossa grape (known as Barbaroux in France) is the second principal variety in red and rosé AC Ajaccio wines (Jean-Charles Abbatucci has also begun making an interesting white Barbarossa wine at his eponymous domaine). In Sartène, Figari, Porto-Vecchio and along the eastern coast of the island, you’ll find Barbarossa in Vin de Pays de l’Ile de Beauté wines. DNA profiling has shown the Barbaroux grown in Provence is distinct from the Barbarossa vines in Liguria and Piedmont. Although the exact origin of the Barbarossa grape is disputed, the Corsican lineage of Barbarossa has existed on the island for at least 800 years. Fruity and floral in character, Barbarossa wines are balanced, but they tend to lack a certain finesse and to be rather lightweight in structure. This characterisation may change, however, with other winemakers following Abbatucci’s lead in making more full-bodied, aromatically complex and elegant Barbarossa white wines.

Of Italian origin, Aleatico is believed to be related to the same part of the Muscat family as Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains. It produces a wine of deep red colouring, with a strong Muscat-like grapey nose and a smooth palate with low tannins. It is grown in the Sartène and Porto-Vecchio districts as well as on the east of the island but allowed only as part of a blend with the designation Vin de Pays de l'Ile de Beauté.


Also known in Corsica as Malvoisie de Corse, Vermentinu is a late-ripening grape that is the ultimate Mediterranean variety. It originated in Spain or Madeira, or perhaps Portugal, and it is now widely planted in Corsica, Sardinia (as Vermentino), and all along the Mediterranean coastline from Tuscany, through Liguria and into southern France (known as Rolle). It can yield wines of outstanding personality, with pronounced perfume, balanced by a substantial alcohol level and good body.

Biancu Gentile
A native Corsican variety so rare that it’s not even listed in the Oxford Companion to Wine, Biancu Gentile was 'rediscovered' in the mid-1990s by noted Corsican winemakers such as Antoine Arena in Patrimonio and Yves Canarelli in Figari. In their hands it can produce rich, smooth, silky-textured, pale lemon-yellow wines with pure fruit flavours and long, caressing finishes.

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